Historical novelist to speak at bookstore

Laguna Beach Books' series of talks by local authors will continue Sept. 9 with Maggie Anton, author of the acclaimed "Rashi's Daughters" trilogy.

"The talks are a way to promote local authors," said bookstore owner Jane Hanauer. "It is hard for non-nationally known authors to get into independent bookstores, and it is a big help to them."


Anton's latest book, "Rav Hisda's Daughter, Book I: Apprentice," will go on sale Friday. It is the start of a new trilogy, described by Anton as "a novel of love, the Talmud and sorcery."

Unlike many authors, Anton is articulate and eager to share her knowledge.


"I have never been shy," Anton said in a telephone conversation Monday.

She enjoys the opportunity to talk about her books, and she loves the research that lends authenticity to her historical novels.

Her research uncovered numerous references to Rabbi Rav Hisda in the Talmud, which Anton has studied for about 20 years. His daughter is the woman most often mentioned in the Talmud.

"I decided to write about his daughter, Hisdadukh, after encountering a fascinating passage in the Talmud where Rav Hisda brings his two best students before her," Anton said. "When asked which one she wants to marry, she replies, 'Both of them.'


"Any girl who declares that she wants to marry both her suitors deserves to have her story told."

Anton's characters lived in Babylonia after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, when early rabbis were first creating the Talmud.

"Yet few people are familiar with this time period," Anton said.

Even fewer are familiar with the Talmud, which has evolved over the centuries.

"It is a living document," said Anton.

And it often contradicts itself, not to mention the Torah — which is Jewish law.

The Torah states that a sorceress or enchantress must not be allowed to live, but the Talmud permitted magic — if the purpose was to heal, protect people from demons or to further a Rabbi's education, Anton said.

References to magic stud the pages of the Talmud. Magic, the restrictions placed on women of the time and the effect of wars on Judaism are the heart of the Anton's book.


The youngest daughter of Hisda is a gifted student of the Talmud, until she is barred from further studies by her gender.

She is smart and well-educated, one of her father's best students, but she can never follow in his footsteps as a rabbi.

Hisdadukh is introduced to the practice of magic by a sister-in-law, and the book explores how magic liberated her from the chains that continue to subjugate women today.

She learns to inscribe incantation bowls and make amulets to safeguard the buyer from a variety of evils, such as infertility, miscarriage or travel accidents.

"And since many people recovered from their injuries and illnesses, most pregnant women did not die in childbirth, and the majority of children survived childhood, spells to heal and protect them were considered successful," said Anton.

Magic is still a part of modern culture, according to Anton.

"A quick Internet search will turn up a wide variety of amulets for sale, some quite similar to those of Rav Hisda's time," she said.

Does St. Christopher ring a bell? A pinch salt tossed over one's shoulder. A rabbit's foot? A four-leaf clover?

"Should my novel become popular, I wouldn't be surprised if Jewish artisans started manufacturing modern incantation bowls," Anton said.

Anton owns two incantation bowls — one in perfect condition, the other broken and repaired — which she bought on a trip to Israel to visit her son who was a student there at the time.

"I sometimes take the broken one to speaking engagements," Anton said.

She is not willing to risk the perfect one.

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